Sutherland Springs Actions Raise the Questions
President Joe Biden likes to portray himself as the anti-gun violence president, but Biden’s Justice Department is working to block grieving victims and relatives of the 2017 Sutherland Springs church massacre, like a girl whose mother died while trying to protect her siblings, from receiving money ordered by a Texas judge.
The girl, identified in court records as R.T., then 9, hid under a pew at First Baptist Church. Devin Kelley, whose name wasn’t entered into a national database that would have prevented him from buying an AR-556 file, fired 450 rounds with it in 7 minutes and 24 seconds. He killed 25 people, including a pregnant woman, and injured 22 more. R.T. was mostly unharmed physically although she has scars on her leg and arm from being burned by gunfire.
“No other individual – not even Kelley’s own parents or partners – knew as much as the United States about the violence that Devin Kelley had threatened to commit and was capable of committing,” wrote Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush. He ordered the Air Force to pay more than $230 million in damages to 80 people.
In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Act, named after Reagan’s press secretary who was partially paralyzed in a 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan. The law is supposed prevent mass shootings like the one by Kelley, who drove 60 miles to Sutherland Springs to try to destroy the life of his wife’s foster mother, by requiring gun dealers to request background checks. Kelley’s mother-in-law, Michelle Shields, wasn’t at church that day, but he killed her mother, Lula White, 71, and 24 others before killing himself.
Our nation’s Justice Department argued that the United States isn’t liable under the law even though Air Force employees repeatedly failed to report Kelley’s criminal conduct and conviction, while Kelley was in the Air Force, to the FBI.
Biden’s Justice Department has appealed Rodriguez’s verdict. Anti-gun violence advocates fear this appeal could undermine background check laws.
The surviving victims of Sutherland Springs and the families of the victims have said they are willing to accept a 10% or 15% reduction and wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“Seven of us passed away waiting since our case began,” said former Marine Corps veteran Juan Macias who sang “Jesus Loves Me” with R.T. as they tried to shelter during the massacre and was shot five to seven times. “And it seems like your plan is to appeal and wait for others to die or give up.”
During the trial, attorneys from Biden’s Justice Department tried to discredit the testimony of Kelley’s widow, Danielle Smith, that she wouldn’t have bought a gun for Kelley if he hadn’t been able to pass background checks.
Rodriguez wrote that Kelley intended to kill his wife’s family and isolate her as part of a pattern of physical, emotional and verbal domestic abuse.
“The Government’s theory of the case relies on an artificially narrow – and troubling – understanding of domestic violence,” Rodriguez wrote.
R.T. now lives with an aunt. She has panic attacks at school, sometimes multiple attacks a week. She took jars of sand and seashells from a beach trip to Corpus Christi to place in front of the headstones of her mother, JoAnn Ward, whose body had to be identified through tattoos, and her two younger sisters, Emily Garcia, 7, and Brooke Ward, 5.
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